Archive for October, 2004

A Note to the Set Decorator

October 30, 2004

The next time your director tells you to dress some bookshelves with titles from the late ’60s or early ’70s, don’t just lazily throw Jonathan Livingston Seagull out there and expect your audience to divine a whole Zeitgeist from it. At least try to consider using some of these others, all of which were common as dirt in people’s livingrooms back then:

The Making of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (Jerome Agel)

The Beatles Illustrated Lyrics (Alan Aldridge, ed.)

Naked Came the Stranger (“Penelope Ashe”)

Giles Goat Boy (John Barth)

Labyrinths: Selected Stories and Other Writings (Jorge Luis Borges)

The Illustrated Man (Ray Bradbury)

The Whole Earth Catalog (Stewart Brand, ed.)

Trout Fishing in America (Richard Brautigan)

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West (Dee Brown)

How to Talk Dirty and Influence People (Lenny Bruce)

I and Thou (Martin Buber)

Naked Lunch (William S. Burroughs)

The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge (Carlos Castaneda)

Journey to the End of the Night (Louis-Ferdinand Celine)

Soul on Ice (Eldridge Cleaver)

Beautiful Losers (Leonard Cohen)

Be Here Now (Ram Dass)

The Second Sex (Simone de Beauvoir)

Fup (Jim Dodge)

The Alexandria Quartet (Lawrence Durrell)

Tarantula (Bob Dylan)

The Collected Poems and Plays of T.S. Eliot

From Those Wonderful Folks Who Brought You Pearl Harbor (Jerry Della Femina)

Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth (R. Buckminster Fuller)

Howl and Other Poems (Allen Ginsberg)

The Female Eunuch (Germaine Greer, Jennifer Baumgardner)

Poetry, Language, Thought (Martin Heidegger)

Catch-22 (Joseph Heller)

The Doors of Perception (Aldous Huxley)

Steal This Book (Abbie Hoffman)

Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson (George Jackson)

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (James Joyce)

I Lost It at the Movies (Pauline Kael)

Amerika (Franz Kafka)

Bored of the Rings (Douglas C. Kenney, Henry N. Beard)

The Dharma Bums (Jack Kerouac)

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Ken Kesey)

Tales of Hoffman (Mark L. Levine, George C. McNamee, Daniel Greenberg, ed.)

Why Are We in Vietnam? (Norman Mailer)

A Child’s Garden of Grass (Jack S. Margolis)

The Selling of the President 1968 (Joe McGinniss)

The Medium is the Massage (Marshall McLuhan, Quentin Fiore)

Tropic of Capricorn (Henry Miller)

Ada, or Ardor (Vladimir Nabokov)

The Pentagon Papers (The New York Times, pub.)

The Peter Principle (Laurence J. Peter)

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values (Robert Pirsig)

Portnoy’s Complaint (Philip Roth)

Franny and Zooey (J.D. Salinger)

Candy (Terry Southern and Mason Hoffenberg)

Red-Dirt Marijuana and Other Tastes (Terry Southern)

Hell’s Angels (Hunter S. Thompson)

Future Shock (Alvin Toffler)

Johnny Got His Gun (Dalton Trumbo)

Couples (John Updike)

Slaughterhouse-Five (Kurt Vonnegut)

The Way of Zen (Alan Watts)

The Making of the President series (Theodore H. White)

Nixon Agonistes (Garry Wills)

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (Tom Wolfe)

The I Ching, or Book of Changes

And some afterthoughts:

Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (James Agee, Walker Evans)

Separate Reality (Carlos Castaneda)

Invisible Man (Ralph Ellison)

Fire in the Lake: The Vietnamese and the Americans in Vietnam (Frances FitzGerald)

Black Like Me (John Howard Griffin)

The Autobiography of Malcolm X (Alex Haley)

Island (Aldous Huxley)

Nicholas and Alexandra (Robert K. Massie)

Goodbye, Columbus and Five Short Stories (Philip Roth)

The Warren Commission Report

Non je ne regrette rien…

October 25, 2004

Rough and choppy seas of sleep last night, and now a full day of a lifetimes later the rains slamming against my window like a sheet of nails, with more of the same (and a trip upcountry) promised for the morrow. Shee-it, motherfucker, whos zooming who? I’m gonna hate myself five hours from now…

Memo to Page-Turners

October 24, 2004

Hey there, little blog, I ain’t forgotten you. I’ve just been busy with a handful of gnatlike realities that’re swarming around my head right now. Back soon enough…

(Edit: Also, for anyone who stumbled onto The Jerry Lewis Dream when it was posted only in its semi-entirety – thanks to an unfortunate technical glitch – it’s up as it should be immediately below. Hope you enjoy…)

The Jerry Lewis Dream

October 14, 2004

I am walking down a slanted street in the suburbs. I am carrying a blue pad. I do not know what the pad is for. It looks like maybe it is meant to keep something warm or cool. It is made of heavy plastic. I take good care of it.

I stop at a sprawling ranch-house on the slanted street and walk up the driveway. It is Jerry Lewis’ house, and I am going to a party there. I’m one of the first guests to arrive. There’s only one problem with this picture: Jerry Lewis hates my guts.

“Found it, did you?” he asks me, making it clear that he wishes I hadn’t. He lets me in anyway. That sets the tone for the party. I am there all day and all night. I help myself to all the food and all the drink available. And while it’s clear from everything he says and does that Jerry Lewis hates my guts, it’s equally clear that for some reason he can’t do a damn thing about it.

He looks like the Jerry Lewis of The King of Comedy – sporting a red cashmere sweater, but sick with self-confidence,  his skin poisoned by sunlight. He looks physically capable of tearing my head off at the stem.

We run into each other half a dozen times during the party. Always, it is the same. He tilts his head back with contempt and looks as if he’s counting the words as they come out of my mouth. Once or twice he seems to be verging on violence, but something holds him back each time. Instead, he just keeps saying uglier and uglier things to me, no matter how friendly I try to be.

At one point I start bemoaning the idiocy of Rich Little-type impersonators. “They think they’re doing Lewis, but they’re really doing Berle. They think they’re doing Berle, but they’re really doing Lewis. They’re pathetic,” I say. It sounds like a good case to me but the look on Jerry Lewis’ face tells me otherwise.

It is time to go. Many guests have come and gone, and now the house is littered with trash. I say goodbye to the middle-aged sisters I had such a pleasant time with in the kitchen. They’re sorry to see me go.

In the driveway Jerry Lewis is sorting through some large green recycling containers. They are crammed with what looks like the detritus of a long and active showbiz career, plaques and photos and awards. He thoughtfully moves a trophy from one green can to another.

I could go down to the far end of the driveway, walking around the far end of the many cars parked there, and that way not disturb Jerry Lewis. But, no – there is something I must retrieve. I have left my blue pad in the garage.

I squeeze between the garage door and the green cans, and find my blue pad on the bridge-table where I left it. Once more I squirm past the green cans until I am standing opposite Jerry Lewis. I stop and look at him. He pretends not to see me. I am feeling surly, though, and finally he has to relent. “Didja have a good time?” he asks, his cheekbones tightening.

Before I even know how to answer him, something happens. I wake up. I am sitting in my friends’ living-room in the Valley, drenched in sweat. The beer I took an optimistic sip out of just before passing out is now sitting, warm and flat, on the speaker next to me. I have been asleep for hours.

It is my fiftieth birthday. That’s a milestone, I have to remind myself, even though in the months running up to it I’ve teased, tortured, and hypnotized myself with swarms of questions about how things have turned out, for better and for worse. What happened to all of the ambitions and flames? How did I wind up here, sweating on a friend’s couch on a hot Angeleno afternoon?

I can no more answer these questions than I can say why Jerry Lewis hates my guts or what the blue pad is for. Oh, the linear decisions are easy enough, but the Big Picture questions – I don’t have any more of a clue about those than I did when I was 20.

Agh, screw it. It’s still a couple of hours before the guests arrive – for my party, not Jerry Lewis’. The late afternoon shadows stretching down Ventura Boulevard look like a pair of cool blue gates inviting me to walk under them. The Astros game should be on by now, and if I want to I can saunter up to The House of Billiards and catch a little bit of it there. After all, it’s my birthday, so yeah, that’s what I think I’ll do. I’ll just shoot a game and have a drink or two by myself, and try to soak it all in before the shouting starts up.

“We drove that car as far as we could…”

October 7, 2004

A quick update, if for no other reason than I’m realizing this thing is, as Lester Freamon would put it, a discipline, and I, who was born without a disciplined bone in his body, find it all too easy to let the days slide away while everything withers on the vine. Bringing some backbone to bear is a even a little harder under the circumstances, mooning about as I’ve been this last week or so, and having basically put my life on hold until my trip to L.A. next week – to celebrate my 50th birthday and my friend Gary’s 40th – is over. I’ve also been in the thrall of a woman who I can’t get together with for reasons so valid and insurmountable that she may as well live on Venus, adding one more blue note to these days. And to top it all off I’ve had a beaut of a fever the last 24 hours, the kind that keeps driving you to the couch for rest but which won’t let you actually drop off to sleep, choosing instead to fill your head with bits of torturously repetitious wordplay and the outlandish beasts of mythology.

What the fuck – I’ve got Bob Dylan to get me through. One of my employees on that project who looked like the Ultimate Music Geek – an owl-shaped face with Coke-bottle lenses, vintage clothes, and Prince Valiant haircut – asked me one day who I like and I threw out some names. He started bringing me CDs – about 10 in all – crammed with some pretty damn obscure shit, including outtakes and live performances by Dylan and Cash during the Nashville Skyline session, the complete concert from the Dylan-Band ’74 comeback tour, a great disc of prewar blues, a fucking monster compilation – some 120 songs – of live Neil Young, etc. He also gave me the outtakes and alternate versions from Pat Garrett replete w/all the studio chatter – before one track Dylan laughs, “This guy Jerry Fielding is going to go nuts when he hears this, man.” (Fielding is a bigtime Hollywood composer who scored The Wild Bunch and some other Peckinpah works; he and Dylan took an immediate dislike to each other when Peckinpah told ’em to work together on Garrett.) About half a dozen times today I listened to a scorching version of “Tangled Up in Blue” – the song that comes closest to serving as my biography if we’re not counting “Pop a Top” – that Dylan performed in Portsmouth in 2000. It’s a song whose lyrics Dylan has been wont to change willy-nilly over the years, but even if it wasn’t I’m not sure I’d understand more than a fraction of what he’s physically saying here. It doesn’t matter, though, for as the author of Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats once wrote, “Great poetry communicates before it is understood.” Okay, maybe Eliot didn’t mean it that literally, but by the time Dylan and his band launch into the song’s final two minutes, a fractious assault of guitars and drumwork that just keeps peaking and peaking, you feel positively smeared with anger and rue and tenderness. These things are fragile and usually best not put into words, and I’ll probably regret even trying when I finally get back down to ninety-eight-point-six, but in the meantime it feels like the right thing to do. Wherever you are, Dave R., you done good, boy.

High Water Mark

October 3, 2004

John Kerry wasn’t perfect on Thursday night – for one thing, I would’ve loved it if, after President Einstein snottily accused him of forgetting about that powerhouse Poland being part of Le Grand Coalition, Kerry had lightly noted how just last March the Polish president said that he felt “deceived” on the WMD issue. As Bush teeter-tottered back and forth between naked anger (not a good look on a sitting president) and a naked search for answers (the only look worse than anger), I had the same basic impatience with him that I have with network TV shows: “Who can take this bullshit? Who can possibly sit still for it?”

I’m always star-struck by performers who have only one chance to get it right, and have to do it with a lot of people watching, like the folks who staged live plays in the Golden Age of Television, or the 23-year old rookie who, suddenly finding himself in the postseason, has to tune out the crowd’s full-throated roars the better to concentrate on the incoming fastballs being delivered by a homicidally pissed-off Goose Gossage. I suppose that the top of this pyramid is occupied by the men who take part in presidential debates. For most of them you can tell the presidency is something they want more than anything in the world (which should probably disqualify them from getting anywhere close to it), and suddenly here, right at the brink of fulfilling all their aspirations and showing those guys back in Whittier or Brookline who the real losers are, they get shoehorned into a format that’s practically designed to lure them into making a foolish mistake – a mistake that will not only shred their lifelong hopes but also attach itself to their names like a mocking asterisk for the rest of their time on earth. In the meantime they have to memorize a thousand statistics and make sure their tie is on straight. They can’t sweat and they can’t butcher (too badly, anyhow) the names of any foreign heads of state. They can’t unthinkingly blurt out “Oh, give me a fucking break!” when their opponent says something false or ridiculous. Above all, they must appear “presidential” – that is, unflappable, except for those moments when emotion is called for, in which case their sincerity will be scrutinized under an electron microscope. The debates present our best chance to see them model the grit it takes to cut the deals and handle the fixers that presidential aspirants encounter every day of their campaigns, and to those of us who can be intimidated by nothing more than a surly waitress, that kind of poise is awesome stuff indeed.

Kerry was under all these strains and more. Regardless of how much his policies leave to be desired, I think he really does understand the importance of denying Bush the chance of turning the world even farther towards Bedlam. (We’ve seen what Bush did with less than half of the popular vote under his belt; Jesus weeps to think what he’d do with a real mandate.) Kerry also entered the debate trailing in the polls, and his campaign had the air of needing only one solid body-blow before coming apart at the seams. Before the debate there was much ado about how it would be the best, last chance to resurrect his hopes, and for once all the dire talk rang true. In recent weeks, Kerry and his speechwriters had looked stumped in finding a way to talk to the voters, with their nadir coming in an embarrassing stream-of-consciousness litany revolving around the phrase “‘W’ means ‘Wrong.’” I couldn’t even turn on the TV for a couple of days when that bullshit started up; it was too much like watching a firefighter trying to put out a four-alarm blaze by throwing ice-cream cones at it.

But about a week before the debate, somebody on Kerry’s team bothered to sit up one night with a bottle of scotch and a pad of paper and figure out how to talk about this whole Iraq thing, and when Kerry walked onstage his very carriage seemed infected by a new understanding. During the debate he stayed within himself while throwing out roundhouses like “colossal errors of judgment,” and the crucial moment in which he compared his misstatement about the war to Bush’s actually starting it – “Which is worse?” –  came across as a genuinely adult appeal to the voters’ sense of fairness. He talked on a level well above facile zingers (anything less would’ve killed him considering his message), but he was also relaxed, merely stating his case as best he could for anyone who’d respond to it. In the end he left Bush with practically nothing to work with. The GOP is doing its best to milk one unfortunate turn of phrase – “global test” – by which Kerry presumably meant, “Will it make the international community toss its cookies again?” Rove, of course, is distorting this into something more ominous – an international “veto” which those face-fucking Frenchmen will use to keep us from defending ourselves.

So Tuesday night it’s Edwards and Cheney; here’s hoping Edwards slices his porky little opponent into a dozen strips of bacon. I still don’t think Kerry can win this thing, but no matter what he does from here on out, I’ll always be grateful to him for Thursday night. He put into the mainstream a lot of things that were crying out to be said.

Giving Peace a Chance

October 2, 2004

It’s something like a perfect Saturday morning, what with a sky blue and cool after an overcast and muggy week. I’ve got a lot I should be doing – a few deadender tasks left over from the project, phone calls in need of returning, stuff that needs writing, and a dump that needs a little more cleaning – but God it’s just too nice to be responsible right now. Neil Young is howling away, the cigarette smoke is flowing in a long perfect ribbon from the ashtray to the window, the body’s freshly showered and caffeinated to a fine tee, and a big blueberry Danish is sitting here staring me in the face. Soon it’s going to be in my face, and then I’m taking a long walk somewhere…

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